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Duterte says ASG not criminals; gunmen were ‘driven to desperation’

President Rodrigo Duterte said during Friday's Mindanao Hariraya Eid'l Fit'r gathering in Davao City that he did not consider the Abu Sayyaf Group a band of criminals because the group had been "driven to desperation."

"Kaya sabi ko I am not including Abu Sayyaf dito sa criminality. You've never heard me say ‘mga kriminal,’” Duterte explained. “It is a different set up there because these are the guys who were driven to desperation."

He also pointed out that governance was a problem in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). "Wala na nga from Nur [Misuari]. Alam ko 'yan, from Nur to the ARMM. There was no sufficient semblance of governance. And that is why they are pushed to the wall," Duterte added.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) had become infamous for kidnapping and executing hostages, bombings, and extortion activities. ASG gunmen kidnapped Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall in 2015 and beheaded them early this year.

The group freed another victim, Marites Flor, but Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad is still held hostage.

Nur Misuari, meanwhile, was the founder of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and was once ARMM governor but was removed from office. He faces several charges from the 2013 Zamboanga seige that left over 200 dead and which displaced more than 19,000 families.

Duterte, meanwhile, wishes to tackle the implementation of a version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which had been drafted to formalize the creation of a new political entity that would replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Duterte also said that he planned to speak with Misuari, but quipped that he might be kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf when he travels to Jolo in Sulu province. — Bernadette Parco/DVM, GMA News